Back in November, at our Realtime CrunchUp event, I sat on the geolocation panel with members of Twitter, Foursquare, SimpleGeo, GeoAPI, Hot Potato, and Google. At one point, I raised the question if location was going to be the next battleground between startups large and small, much like social identity plays (Facebook Connect vs. Google Friend Connect) and status updates (Twitter vs. Facebook). All of the panelists indicated that it wouldn’t be, because they could all get along. How sweet. Sadly, I don’t believe them. I believe they might think that right now, because it’s still very early in the game. But it’s still a game, and people are going to play to win.
I’m sure some of them would counter that because location data is fairly standard right now, and moving easily between services, all of them will win. But that’s not true either. While location, as a whole, will win, there will be individual companies that end up ahead of others in the space. More to the point, there will be one or two services that people will go to for their social location data. That’s what we’re moving towards. And the bigger companies are starting to realize it. That’s why today we saw what may be the first maneuver in an upcoming rush to secure the location landscape, with Twitter snatching up Mixer Labs, the team behind GeoAPI.
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams writes today that “We will be looking at how to integrate the work Mixer Labs has done with the Twitter API in useful ways…” and notes that they’ll be working on adding contextual local relevancy to tweets. But those vague statements don’t mean a whole lot. Here’s what likely really went down, based on what we’re hearing: Twitter scooped up some solid talent in the location space, on the cheap (in the mid-seven figure range, we’re hearing from multiple sources). Mixer Labs CEO, Elad Gil, for example, was the original product manager for Google Mobile Maps. Four of the other six Mixer Labs employees are also former Googlers, including co-founder Othman Laraki.
What Twitter likely won’t be doing is getting into the core location platform business anytime soon. Though GeoAPI says it has “no plans to retire the current GeoAPI” that seems quite likely to happen as Twitter will just cherry-pick whatever they want from it and merge those elements into its own location APIs. But again, this was mainly a talent acquisition. Twitter is unlikely to compete with what a company like SimpleGeo is doing (and what GeoAPI was doing) because their main goal is to attach location to tweets, for now. SimpleGeo wants to provide general location information to startups, tweets or not. “Unless Twitter was to change their policies regarding distribution of location tagged tweets (or there was a disparity in the availability of aggregated location data), the acquisition doesn’t change our approach at all. We’re still going to continue working with SimpleGeo,” Hot Potato’s Justin Shaffer tells us.
Going forward, however, Twitter is likely to try and position itself as the main syndicator of location. That’s likely to put them up against Foursquare, Gowalla, and yes, eventually, Facebook and Google.